Charge it up

G Magazine

Following his trial of the Tesla electric sports car, Jon Dee (founder of Do Something! and Planet Ark) ponders the future of electric vehicles.

John Dee and tesla

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When the topic of conversation turns to electric cars, many people conjure up images of a golf cart powered by valium. It’s safe to say that the last thing they associate with electric cars is speed and power. However, history shows that this hasn’t always been the case.

At the turn of the 19th century, people weren’t restricted to petrol-powered cars: there were two other options on the market. Many men drove steam-powered cars, while women preferred electric ‘coaches’. In a bid to increase his sales of electric vehicles to men, a Belgian called Camille Jenatzy embarked on a publicity stunt to break the 100 km/h land speed record. In 1899, he succeeded in an electric car called ‘La Jamais Contente’ (‘The Never Satisfied’).

Jenatzy’s top speed is an easy reach for today’s super fast electric cars. I’ve experienced the thrill of going around Bathurst Race Track in a Tesla Roadster electric sports car. Finally available in Australia, the car goes from 0-100 km/h in four seconds, has a top speed of 200 km/h and a range of nearly 400 km per charge.

One wonders what our cities would be like if all vehicles utilised this technology? Roads and cities would be significantly quieter and air quality would improve. Asthma incidents and pollution-related deaths could also be significantly reduced.

Not to mention that we already have a basic recharging infrastructure in place. All around Australia, we have hundreds of millions of plug points. Isn’t it time that we put them to use powering our cars?

For all the benefits of electric cars, there are two issues that still remain. Recharging the battery still takes too long to be convenient, but that is improving all the time. We can now recharge household batteries in 15 minutes. When we can do the same for electric car batteries, then the petrol car will be dead.

The other issue is the greenhouse pollution that arises from powering electric cars with coal-fired power.
In the short term this is not an issue. The early adopters of electric cars are the very same people who have solar panels on their rooftops or use GreenPower.

But as the adoption of electric cars becomes more widespread, we will need to increase the amount of
renewable energy in the grid.

A solar thermal power plant that generates enough electricity to power 300,000 homes has just been
announced in California. If a financially struggling state like California can do that, then why isn’t a wealthy, sunny country like Australia doing a lot more of the same?

This month, the Tesla won the electric vehicle challenge class at the 2011 Targa Tasmania car championships. For more info, click here.